You can tell a lot about each instalment of Friday the 13th from the way it recaps the previous film. For the first time, The Final Chapter recaps every film so far into a single flashback montage, cementing Parts 1-3 as an unofficial trilogy and forming something of a turning point within the franchise as a whole. Whereas the third film took place in the direct aftermath of the second, here the transition feels even more immediate, with the action starting up again on the same afternoon as the police arrive to clear away the bodies of the corpses from Part 3 and to take Jason’s cadaver to the Crystal Lake Hospital, where he is clinically pronounced dead, an autopsy is performed and his corpse filed away in cold storage.
When Jason does return, then, to carve up the doctor and nurse responsible for putting him away – and for having the additional bad taste to make out in the morgue while his body is still warm – he has quite a different character and bearing than in the previous three films. Back from the dead, he is now officially a supernatural slasher, as well as officially unkillable, and that gives The Final Chapter a different atmosphere in turn. Most immediately, the camera is no longer as identified with Jason’s gaze, with the result that the murders tend to feel a little more sudden and a less less seamless, although that film compensates for that – or takes advantage of it – with the most shocking and horrific kill shots in the franchise so far, most of which are still extremely confronting some thirty years.
At the same time, The Final Chapter gathers the growing suburban tendencies of the first three films into a quite new spatial configuration. Although we’re nominally back at Camp Crystal Lake, it feels like the film is set in outer suburbia, thanks in large part to the family home that anchors and structures the action. Indeed, this is the first time in the franchise at which Jason has turned his attention on a family full stop – and like any classic suburban horror scenario it is a family without a patriarch. While the film never explains why Mrs. Jarvis (Joan Freeman) and her children Trish (Kimberly Beck) and Tommy (Corey Feldman) came to be a single parent unit, nor why they chose to live at the very brink of the woods, they feel as if they’re waiting to be targeted by Jason from the very first scene, if only because he has spent the entire franchise gravitating towards every approximation of his own mother he can find.
This family are not, however, the only potential victims. Once again, we’re faced with a troupe of teenagers, who rock up to the house next door – for some reason there are two houses planted side by side, despite the abundance of space – for a bit of rest and recreation. Combined with the pair of bodacious supermodel twins the teenagers meet in the woods, a hitchhiker who forms one of Jason’s first victims, and a manly camper who becomes an ersatz father figure for the original family, there is a sense that these woods are much more populated and inhabited than those in the original film. More specifically, there is a sense that the family are somehow positioned at the centre of a series of concentric circle of woodland dwellers, all of which form so many buffer zones between them and Jason’s predatory, all-consuming gaze.
While the twins, hitchhiker and camper all have a role to play, it is the gang of teenagers who mediate the relationship between Jason and the family in the most emphatic manner. Indeed, the teenagers often seem as if they are as much of a threat to the family home as Jason, with the result that they increasingly feel converged with Jason and are often shot and framed in the same way as Jason as well. On the one hand, they hold Jason at bay, but they also incite him to further killings, making it feel as if the full import of the woods only becomes available once teen culture is there to draw out its darkest recesses and bring them right to the front door of suburbia. In one of the most concise spatial metaphors of the franchise, then, The Final Chapter presents us with a suburban space that gradually discloses Jason but only once the teenagers draw him out. Fear of youth culture become synonymous with fear of Jason, to the point where you start to forget that the woods are there at all until both Jason and the teenagers indulge themselves to the fullest.
It feels right, then, that Jason is more detached from the camera as well, which by The Final Chapter has been well and truly domesticated as a suburban optic. For the most part, he is a possibility on the fringes of perception, while his POV shots are far less frequent but far more global as well, set in motion by a pair of extraordinarily panoramic aerial perspectives that first announce his presence. It’s all the more unsettling, then, that this is the first film in the franchise in which Jason emphatically comes “inside.” While Part 3’s farmyard setting came very close to suburbia, even there Jason was largely confined to the ancillary space of the barn and only lurked around the threshold of the house proper, synonymous with doors, windows and other frustrated points of entry and exit rather than actually inhabiting the space inside.
In The Final Chapter, Jason is still associated with those thresholds, but tends to traverse them more and more, until he’s finally roaming freely around the two houses, which allows for much more hand-to-hand combat and – by the end – more face-to-face combat, marking the point at which the franchise starts to move away from solitary kill shots. Time and again, the film is obsessed with the spectacle of bodies being hurled through windows only to crash to the ground in slow motion, just as there’s a peculiar preponderance of scenes in which Jason hacks, breaks and crashes his way through doors only to find yet another domestic threshold blocking his way. One of the ways to differentiate the first couple of films in the franchise is how they pay homage to Psycho, and it makes sense that the shower tribute in The Final Chapter moves away from the curtains of the previous films for a translucent glass door that forms of the last in a long line of thresholds to be shattered and regathered into one of Jason’s weapons.
At the same time, the film almost seems to go out of its way to clutter the teenagers’ house with domestic accoutrements – furniture, fittings, decorative objects – as if to remind us that this is not a cabin, campsite or any other space that might be construed as continuous with those inhabited by the campers and teenagers in the first two films. So cluttered is the house that it often feels like an obstacle course more than a liveable space, as Joseph Zito translates the ingeniously occluded sightlines of the second film into a more domestic register. Not only does that make the murder sequences particularly suspenseful and breathtaking, but it makes the immediate aftermath of the murders especially eerie, as the family arrive shortly after Jason has killed off the last teenager to find a movie projector still playing, the shower still running and steam quietly percolating throughout the house.
That moment is all the more unsettling in that this is by far the most violent and extensive of Jason’s killing sprees, just as it features the most embodied and corporealised teenagers to satiate that spree. Even more so than Part III, The Final Chapter is suffused with the low-key promiscuous energy of frathouse films, with everyone – apart from the family – always talking about sex with a gleeful tastelessness and disregard for decorum. At times, the bratty irreverence comes very close to Porky’s or Animal House, especially since so much of The Final Chapter takes place in and around water, creating a liquid, fluid, promiscuous communion between the teenagers that makes it feel as if skinny dipping is always on the agenda in some way.
Even more than the crude jokes, however, it is the frank discussion and general openness about sex that seems designed to cause the greatest sense of horror, flooding the film with a raw desire – an an acknowledgment of raw desire – that is usually massaged and contained by mainstream Hollywood. While the teenagers all are presented as more or less depraved, the single most unsettling spectacle is of Corey Feldman’s character screaming into his pillow and jumping on his bed after watching one of the neighbouring teenagers undress through the window – an inchoate, prepubescent response that is nevertheless in keeping with the hormonal infantilism of the 80s frat film more generally, recalling the classic moment in Animal House at which John Belushi responds to a bevy of beautiful women by throwing food onto his chest. It feels right, then, that the franchise’s oral fixation is more evident than ever as well, with the murders often seeming to coincide with gross eating sequences or to take place in and around food in some way.
For all that they are even more unlikeable than the teenagers in Part 3, however, the brat pack in The Final Countdown are more differentiated and individuated than any others in the franchise to date. In fact, given that there are a much more disparate set of people in the woods generally, this is also the first moment in the franchise at which characters start to feel sympathetic (and at which characters other than Jason start to feel genuinely suspicious). As a result, this is the first film in which you really care about the characters, even the teenagers – Crispin Glover is great as an earnest dweeb who’s told he’s a bad lay – or, alternatively, the first film that’s populated by characters rather than mere bodies. That creates a new kind of suspense, as well as a new emotional involvement, culminating with the first time in the franchise at which Jason actually targets a child, leading to an Omen-like conclusion in which Corey Feldman’s character appears to have become the “new” Jason. Because the film is more character-driven, the suspense isn’t so dependent on a linear succession of kills either, with the family’s mother vanishing, suddenly, halfway through, and never directly mentioned again or resolved in any satisfactory way.
In many ways, then, the Friday the 13th series feels as if it has reached a tipping point with The Final Chapter. Where Part 3 offered 3D as a tool for inhabiting and experiencing Jason’s gaze, this time around there is a more robust and expansive series of ways in which Jason is mediated, with every major kill scene being played out against a monitor or screen of some kind. From the aerobics video playing in the morgue at the beginning to Corey Feldman’s rudimentary collection of computer games, there is a sense that one of the hallmarks of this new supernatural Jason is a robustness across different genres, formats and media. In what is arguably the most poetic sequence of the franchise so far, Jason decisively severs himself from any exclusively cinematic representation by slashing one of the teenagers through a screen that is being used for a projection of an old silent film, apparently timing his kill so that victim dies just as the last spool of film is coming to its end. Not only does that beautifully encapsulate the silence of Jason – and his indebtedness, along with Michael Myers, to silent horror – but it suggests that his power as a serial killer and as a serial presence has somehow exceeded what the cinematic apparatus can project, as well as what we can project onto him.
For that reason, The Final Chapter feels prescient that the serial has reached a point at which most of its dissemination is likely to occur on television, both through late night screenings and – more pointedly – increasingly widespread VHS technology. Indeed, at the very end of the film the last remaining survivors break a TV over Jason’s head, in what they assume will be a decisive kill, but in fact turns out to empower Jason even further – not, admittedly, by providing him with any additional physical power, but by allowing him to transfer his power to Corey Feldman’s character before his current incarnation passes away. From this point in the franchise, then, Jason’s seriality is intimately bound up with that of television and video, just as the families that populate the subsequent films tend to be set against the different kinds of cinephilic kinships that arise around shared and inherited televisual and video practices. By the end, The Final Chapter feels like an exercise in how to properly desire cinema and still subsist upon cinema in an age of small-screen dominance, which is perhaps why it feels so strangely and poetically attuned to our own moment as well.